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How Long Does It Take For A Sprain To Heal?

Felt a twinge in your knee while playing sports? Or maybe you’ve jarred your ankle while on a stroll or run and it’s starting to swell? Then you might have experienced a sprain.

But what is a sprain? And how long does it take for a sprain to heal for you to be back to your fighting best?

In this article, we'll talk through what to do for a sprained ankle, knee, or wrist, as well as when to worry about a sprain.

Read on to find out how long it takes for a sprain to heal.

What is a sprain?

Before we jump into estimates on sprained knee recovery times or how long a wrist sprain takes to heal, let’s first talk about what a sprain is and the symptoms you may experience with your injury.

A sprain is when you stretch or tear your ligaments – the tissue that connects your bones together in your joints. This is not to be confused with a strain, which is when you injure your muscle directly or the band of tissue that connects muscle to bone.

To understand what a sprained ankle feels like, or whether you’ve sprained your wrist or knee, read the following list of sprain symptoms:

  • You are experiencing pain, tenderness, or weakness in the affected area.
  • The affected area is swollen or bruised.
  • You can't put any weight on the affected area or use it normally.

What should I do for a sprained ankle, knee, or other joint?

Now you understand what a sprain feels and looks like, it’s important to touch upon what to do for a sprained ankle, knee, wrist, or other joint – and it’s all about RICE!

  • REST: Make sure you rest the affected area as much as possible. Try not to move the injured ligament or put too much pressure on it, as it may cause further pain and damage.

  • ICE: Put some ice cubes into a cloth or pick up an ice pack from a pharmacy and gently apply it to the area. The safest way to do this is in increments of 15 to 20 minutes and for no more than 8 times a day.

  • COMPRESSION: Wrap the area with an elastic bandage or use a support brace designed specifically for the troubled ligament. This will help remind you to be more aware of the vulnerable joint when going about your daily routine.

  • ELEVATE: Slightly raising the area can increase blood flow and reduce swelling, helping to alleviate any pain, while also giving the ligament every chance to rest and recover.

You can also take paracetamol for pain management and apply ibuprofen gels or creams to the area to ease any swelling. During the first 48 hours of injury, it's best to avoid moving as much as possible, and not to massage or heat the area. Avoid baths and heat pads for this reason, as they can both exacerbate symptoms too.

How long does an ankle sprain take to heal?

A sprained ankle is one of the most common types of sprains, and the pain can make even the most mundane of tasks feel like a mission.

Typically, sprained ankle recovery time lasts anywhere between 4 and 6 weeks – though it’s usually best to wait at least 8 weeks to resume taking part in any sports. There are ways to quicken your sprained ankle recovery time, however, once you’ve completed your initial RICE treatment.

So, if you’re wondering what to do for a sprained ankle, try the exercises below help gradually increase mobility in the injured joint:

  • Ankle circles:

    Take a seat, ensuring you're balanced, and then begin slowly rotating your ankle in a clockwise circle for 5 to 10 counts. Then, switch to an anti-clockwise rotation for the same count. Take a break for a minute and then repeat the process 2 to 3 times.

    If you're experiencing pain with this exercise, then stop and come back to it when you’re a bit further along in your sprained ankle recovery time.

  • Ankle pumps:

    Once you are seated safely, leisurely point your toes forward, extending your ankle. Then, pull your ankle gently back in, pointing your toes to the ceiling. Do this for up to 30 reps, stopping if you feel severe pain, and try to repeat the exercise at least 3 times a day.

    You can also quicken your sprained ankle recovery time - and give the joint a bit more support in the meantime - by wearing an ankle support brace as it heals.

How long does a knee sprain take to heal?

While there are a few different types of knees sprains with varying recovery times, the most common type of knee sprain is an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) sprain.

The sprained knee recovery time for a minor ACL sprain typically takes between 1 and 2 weeks - but this can go up to a few months if the sprain is more severe. But don’t worry, there are some low impact exercises you can do in the meantime to help alleviate pain and potentially accelerate your sprained knee recovery time:

  • Exercise for movement:

    Rest your ankle on an elevated surface and point your ankle to the ceiling. Then, gently push the back of your knee against the surface underneath your leg, tensing your thigh muscle as you go. Hold this for 5 seconds and then relax.

    Repeat this exercise for 10 reps, 2 to 3 times a day. If this is causing too much pain then stop and wait a couple of days or until you feel more comfortable.

  • Exercise for strength:

    Lay on your back with both feet on the ground, knees bent up and pointing to the ceiling. Gradually straighten your injured knee out, pulling your toes towards you, and raise your leg slightly off the ground. Hold for a few seconds and then relax, lowering your leg to the floor.

    Repeat this exercise as many times as is comfortable considering your current sprained knee recovery time. However, if this is causing intense pain (some discomfort is normal) then stop immediately.

How long does a wrist sprain take to heal?

As with estimated sprained knee or sprained ankle recovery times, the length of time a wrist sprain takes to heal depends on the severity of the injury.

For minor sprains, you’re typically looking at 1 to 2 weeks, while a more severe sprained wrist can take between 3 and 6 weeks to recover. Don’t worry though, there are some light exercises you follow for a sprained wrist to encourage mobility and strengthen the joint.

  • Wrist flexion stretch:

    Stretch your arm out and face your palm up. Gently, pull your hand in towards you, and hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Slowly lower your hand back down and rest, repeating this as many times as is comfortable, depending on where you’re at in your sprained wrist recovery time.

  • Wrist circles:

    Stand up with your feet shoulder-width apart, interlock your fingers and raise your hands to the height of your shoulders. Slowly, rotate your wrists in a clockwise circle for a few counts, then change and go counter clockwise for the same count.

    Repeat this exercise 5 times (if you can), and make sure to stop immediately if you’re experiencing any intense pain.

When should I worry about a sprained ankle, knee, or wrist?

While most sprains will heal themselves over time with the proper rest and recovery time, there are some occasions where you may need to see a medical professional.

For example, if you injured your ankle and the pain or swelling is the same after 5 days of at-home treatment, it's best to see a clinician for a check-up. They may be able to refer you to a physiotherapist who can ease any worries and advise how to quicken your sprained ankle recovery time.

Similarly, if it hurts to put weight on the injury, you have a high temperature, or the bruising and swelling is getting worse, then call 111 for reassurance and advice.

While this is rare, it's best to go to A&E for advice if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • You heard a crack when you injured yourself.
  • You have pins and needles in the area.
  • The area is numb.
  • The skin is blue or grey.
  • The skin is cold to touch.

Enjoyed our article about what you can do for a sprained ankle? Head over to our Be Healthy hub for a wealth of lifestyle advice and guidance on your mental and physical wellbeing.

Medically reviewed in October 2023.